AT 4.45pm every Saturday there are pairs of pristine gloves packed back into kit bags, ready for the next time their owners are on-call.

There can be few sporting jobs as frustrating, or at times tedious, as the reserve keeper: train, warm-up, sit on bench, repeat.

With guilt from not really playing a part in success and always on the outside, it's only natural that many must watch on and pray for the number one to make a rash decision and see red.

A chance will only come from another's mistake, and even then it's likely to only be a temporary act as the deputy.

As Japan looms it is becoming clear that Warren Gatland has mastered the art of making the understudies feel important; every member of his squad feels that a Wales jersey is within grasp in World Cup year.

The pecking order is no longer set in stone and that is no small feat for a country that has frequently struggled for depth, fearing that the loss of a couple of key figures will turn them from contenders to outsiders.

There are still a few areas of concern – outside centre and number eight – but Wales are in a strong position as the months are chalked off in the countdown to Japan. The drop-off in quality is no longer as severe if the first or second choice is not available.

Gatland will ring the changes for Saturday's Test against Tonga but the team he names at midday will still be strong.

The head coach could name a completely different XV yet field Lions Dan Biggar and Liam Williams in the backs, a loosehead in Rob Evans who was approaching world-class status last season, a second-row partnership of Jake Ball and Cory Hill plus Ellis Jenkins in the back row, a flanker who would be a shoo-in for most countries.

Gatland called 60-plus players to the Vale Resort headquarters before naming his autumn squad when he ran through the timeline to Japan 2019 and most of them wouldn't look out of place in his XV, let alone the 31-man World Cup squad.

The management team deserve credit for how they have achieved this. They have rewarded strong performances and everybody has something to play for.

They dangled the carrot in summer Tests against South Africa and Argentina and have reaped the rewards. Players have to believe that earning a start is possible even when the big guns are available, that's what drives standards and Gatland's planning has ensured that training is feisty this autumn.

There are no passengers, nobody is just holding tackle bags and expecting a month in the Principality Stadium posh seats.

I recall an interview with Mike Phillips after a Cardiff Test when the scrum-half spoke with brutal honesty about feeling he didn't stand a chance of a fair crack at taking Dwayne Peel's 9 jersey while Gareth Jenkins was calling the shots.

The reality is that Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and probably now Justin Tipuric are untouchable; their rivals are playing for second place in the Wales depth chart.

Colleagues will push them, keep them on their toes and ensure there is no complacency but it is only injury that will prevent Davies from having 13 on his back against Australia in Tokyo or Elliot Dee/Ryan Elias throwing in at the first lineout.

There are a handful of players who know at the back of their minds that it is only somebody else's misfortune that will earn a World Cup place but everybody is pushing hard.

There is no us and them, there is no chance of Wales suffering from the Lions tour problem of 'dirt trackers' knowing their Test hopes are slim.

When Gatland does names his 31 for Japan the head coach will be able to list a pretty formidable XV from those that miss out.

Making the phone calls to the unlucky ones won't be pleasant but the quality of player that will be left behind should be a source of pride for the New Zealander.

THIS week has featured Wales players speaking of the need to grasp their opportunity against Tonga on Saturday afternoon and the same applies for the Dragons that take to the field against Russia in Bedwas tomorrow.

Of the XV that has been named for Bridge Field, 11 could conceivably feature in the vital Guinness PRO14 encounter with Edinburgh the following weekend.

Bernard Jackman, who has handed the reins to assistants Ian Evans and Alan Kingsley for the Bears fixture, no doubt has a team pencilled in for the league clash at Rodney Parade.

But tomorrow's game presents the chance to sow a seed of doubt in the head coach's mind.

Up front Ryan Bevington, Aaron Jarvis, Joe Davies and Rynard Landman could all do their starting hopes the power of good while footballing forward James Benjamin can show that the classy approach has its value in a back row that has been dominated by those that like to bludgeon.

Josh Lewis has been shunted down the pecking order after a couple of shaky displays led to Jason Tovey's arrival. The summer signing from Bath needs to regain the trust and show that a specialist fly-half should be on the bench rather than relying on full-back Jordan Williams as back-up.

Players have to shine, otherwise they can have no complaints when they find themselves out in the cold.

And if they do impress then it is essential that Jackman takes a leaf out of Gatland's book and rewards individuals.

Given the Dragons' meagre resources, no player should feel that they are resigned to being an understudy.